Vacation Writing: Fiction Reboot Hits the Road

Or, more accurately, the water.

This week, I will be bringing you the Fiction Reboot from the green, forested shores of Dale Hollow Lake in Tennessee.

It is truly beautiful here. Softly lapping water, green blue and gentle, whispers like a lover’s lullaby. It is shocking in its clarity, seeming to be only a few feet deep but really dropping for many meters. This was once a steep-walled canyon, but dams turned the river into a deep, cold lake, stretching along the border between Tennessee and Kentucky. I love it here, not for its own sake alone, but because this is the scene of many past family vacations.

When I was young, my parents would rent a house boat on the this lake. Some of these are quite grand–yachts, really–but not on our family budget. Imagine more of a floating trailer… aluminum, white, squat, with plastic deck chairs and 1970s upholstery in floral. But trust me, it was a palace. A kingdom. As close to sailing the high seas as I could get at 13 (and I always wanted to be a pirate, you know). I would sit on the flat roof as we made our way along, listening to Sting’s Soul Cages and pretending this was a schooner of sorts… A Newcastle ship… A something imaginative and grand and flying dangerous colors. My hair (long, black, and unwieldy as Medusa’s pin curls) would fly about in a fresh evening wind. I was whoever I wanted to be. It was magic.

And, of course, there were fish. The real purpose of this journey was to save fish from drowning. Trout, bass, pike, sunfish, blue-gil, perch. We took boats out in turn with my father, the Great Man of my youth. I respected the Great Man. I fought with him a lot, too. But we were two of a kind, you know. Anti-social, for one thing, and lovers of knowledge for another. Hidden stores of knowledge. About fish. Bears. Racoons. Weather patterns. Vietnam. (And pain, and how to hide it well.) I belonged to my father in ways I would never belong to anyone else. After all, he adopted me (and I was no picnic, let me tell you). There is nothing quite like being loved by a father who chooses you for you.

And, of course, there was family. The real purpose of this journey was to save a family from the world. A unit against the machine, we left civilization behind and played cards. My mother was fantastic at cards. She was my partner. My brother was crap at cards. He was my dad’s partner. Mom and I had a system. We were the invincible females, two Amazon women ruling as queens of a small boat. Mom was great at games and stories, making up the strangest and most lovely tales (about the man who painted the sky, for instance). Mom and me–We won. A lot. Mostly because my younger brother always called suit. Even if he didn’t have any of the corresponding cards. Compulsion, I think, but funny. The boat rang with laughter always.

And, of course, there were dragons to slay. The real purpose of this journey was for my brother and I to invent as many weird water games as possible. Most involved imaginary creatures. Dinosaurs, water monsters, aliens, talking rabbits (which were also aliens–my brother had the coolest dreams). Its shocking we did not grow gills, as we never left the water (except to play cards and save fish from drowning). We were always at each other, but we were also our own best fiends. We still are.

And here I am again. Different times. There are a lot more of us, for once thing. My brother and his wife have two small boys, Nicholas and Matthew. This is there first trip to the lake. My parents are here, too, as is my spouse (the esteemed Mr. Mark who gets frequent mention on this blog, though we live 5 hours apart. He deserves crowns of glory–for I am still no picnic, and there is nothing like being loved by a man who chooses you for you).  It is the same, but wholly different. But it is still most awesome–and I can almost see my younger self, tendrils flying, clinging to the rigging and ready to man the quarter-deck.

Such places bring us back home to ourselves. And like any venue that offers a sweeping vista of the past as well as the future, this is an excellent place to write from.


This week we will have Tessa Harris, author of The Anatomist’s Apprentice for our Thursday author feature. Tune in!

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